Rules Of Professional Conduct: Akpata Urges Calm, Says AGF Cannot Unilaterally Amends Rules

President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olumide Akpata

BEVERLY HILLS, September 14, (THEWILL) – The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olumide Akpata has called on Nigerian lawyers to remain calm over the unilateral amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct, RPC (2007) by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami without proper due process as provided by the rule.

The NBA President said that the RPC (2007) is yet to be amended in line with the conditions stipulated by the Legal Practitioners Act. He added that no meeting had been convened for the amendment of the Rules and therefore, the purported amendment cannot be said to be true while he is engaging the Attorney General of the Federation closely.

The AGF had amended the RPC and deleted rules 9(2), 10, 11, 12, and 13 , an action that has elicited mixed reactions amongst lawyers. While some criticized it for being illegal because the meeting of the Bar Council was not convened prior to the amendment, others said there is nothing strange about what Malami did since it was the same procedure that brought the said provisions in 2007.

However, while urging members of the profession to remain calm, the NBA president said he has “seen and read Statutory Instrument No. 15 of 2020 (the “Instrument”), making the rounds on social media and which purports to amend certain provisions of the 2007 Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (RPC). Since the Instrument was released, I have received numerous calls and messages from lawyers across the country seeking clarification and guidance on the purport of the Instrument.

“By virtue of the Instrument, the following provisions of the RPC are to be deemed deleted:

a) Rule 9(2), which relate to default in payment of practicing fees;

b) Rule 10, which relates to stamp and seal for legal practitioners;

c) Rule 11, which relates to mandatory continuing professional development;

d) Rule 12, which relates to the Annual Practicing Certificate for legal practitioners; and

e) Rule 13, which relates to the obligation to give notice of the commencement of legal practice to the branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) responsible for the jurisdiction in which the practice is located.

“The explanatory note to the Instrument suggests that it was done to bring the RPC into conformity with the provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act, the Law Officers Act, and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). For the avoidance of doubt, the Legal Practitioners Act (as amended) confers the power to issue rules of professional conduct for legal practitioners, and any amendments thereto, on the General Council of the Bar (the “Bar Council”). The Bar Council comprises the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation (“HAGF”), the Honourable Attorneys-General of the thirty-six states of Nigeria, and twenty members of the NBA. Consequently, the RPC and any amendments thereto may only be validly issued after it has been deliberated upon and approved at a properly convened meeting of the Bar Council.”

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Akpata said, “as far as the NBA is aware, no notice convening a meeting of the Bar Council was issued to its elected representatives on the Bar Council and no meeting of the Bar Council was convened and/or held to deliberate on the Instrument. To that extent, our position is that no authority or approval was given for the amendment of the RPC. Consequently, the NBA maintains that the RPC has not been amended and enjoins all legal practitioners to remain calm and continue to conduct their affairs in the same manner as they did prior to the issuance of the Instrument.

“Let me assure our members that I am engaging closely with the HAGF on this issue and will provide further updates on our next steps in the coming days. Indeed, as part of the commitment of the current administration of the NBA towards the welfare and capacity building of members and the overall improvement of the Bar, we intend to propose certain amendments to the RPC that will be critical to the attainment of those objectives.”

However, in doing this, we will ensure to carry our members along with a view to getting their buy-in as critical stakeholders”, the statement added